Ever wondered where the term “busy as a bee” came from? Well, here is your answer. Honeybees work day and night in their hives making an enchanting and intricately built geometric phenomenon that we call honeycomb. How—and why—do those little fluffy guys all work together to produce the hexagonal honeycomb shape that a lot of people know and love? Of course, they are a place for their honey to be stored.
Honeybees are fascinating for a number of reasons. Their work ethic, the sweet syrup they secrete, and the intricate social structure of their homes used for storing honey are just a few. Honeycombs lie inside the beehives. But the real question is WHY do bees create such incredible structures?
Why Do Bees Make Honeycomb?
While this is a common condiment, bees do not necessarily create honey for humans to benefit. Though humans can enjoy the many health benefits offered by honey, it is primarily essential for bees to survive the winter months. During these cold months, they are unable to gather nectar and pollen outside of the hive. This results in bees having to rely on the honey resources they have built up as the “winter cluster”. Because this is so essential for bees to survive, they have perfected the art of the honeycombs’ hexagonal architectural design.
If you are wondering how a group of bees choose the perfect location to build the honeycomb, it’s primarily achieved by finding a surface they feel suitable for their hive. This is typically in wooden structures, rock crevices, undersides of roofs, or really any place they feel provides them with protection from the elements. After they find a safe and protected place, the group of bees begin construction at the top and work their way down.
Why is Honeycomb Hexagonal?
Why the hexagon, of all shapes? Bees are extremely intelligent. (Scientists even claim that bees are excellent mathematicians.) Honeybees have figured out that packing a hexagonal pattern together over and over again creates the most efficient use of space. This shape allows the bee to fit into the structure, as well as contains the nectar and stores it. Let’s call this their very own honey jar. Not only do the honeycomb cells hold the bees’ honey stores and nectar, they also store pollen, water, and larvae.
How is Honeycomb Created
Bees are capable of producing a wax - also called beeswax - with their eight pairs of wax glands, positioned under their abdomen. This substance oozes through the bee’s pores to produce tiny flakes of wax on their abdomens. Bees will chew the wax or do it for a neighbor/friend worker bee until the wax becomes soft. After the beeswax becomes a more clay-like material, bees will then bond large quantities of wax into the cells of a honeycomb. The colony of bees crowding together creates the temperature necessary to control the texture of the wax inside of the beehive.
Workers bees will forage for food and gather nectar from different plants. The pollen they carry mixes with a specialized enzyme, which is then transferred from their tongues to other bees’ tongues. This process enables the nectar to be evaporated to later become honey. The glands of the worker bees convert the sugar contents of honey into wax.
When a bee attempts to build a comb, that individual worker bee may return to the hive upon visiting a sugar water feeder and execute what has been termed as the “waggle dance” to the surrounding hive of bees. This little dance is a unique form of communication that has allowed scientists to map the distance and location where bees foraged from mouth to mouth. The waggle dance allows the worker bee to signal the specific direction and distance of the sugar water feeder so that other bees can also locate the food source.
The process takes a lot of work, however, to produce the honeycomb wax. They have to consume eight ounces of honey in order to produce one ounce of wax. There is no wasted space with the hexagonal shapes put together over and over again! The hexagonal pattern and structure saves the bees time and energy. They can use this saved energy to complete other essential jobs, such as carry pollen from flower to flower, allowing new plants to grow.
A finished honeycomb can support up to 30 times a bees’ own weight, storing honey in its upper sections, pollen in the rows below that, followed by worker brood cells, drone brood cells, and Queen cells at the bottom of the structure. Can you believe how hardworking these tiny creatures are? These insects may be small but between pollination and honey production, they make a huge impact.